Gintama New Series Key Visual。(c)空知英秋／集英社・テレビ東京・電通・BNP・アニプレックス
Hi everyone. It’s Mokugyo, your favorite manga and anime writer here at MANGA.TOKYO. There are lots of anime movie adaptations that are going to be premiering soon, but there is one in particular I’m eagerly waiting for!
Live-action Movie Gintama Trailer [HD] July 14 2017
In this article, I’m going to examine its protagonist, Gintoki Sakata. It can be said that the charm of Gintama is equal to the charm of Gintoki. Let’s see what sort of character he is.
What is ‘Gintama’?
Gintama rolled out in 2004. It was created by Hideaki Sorachi, and it has been serializing in Weekly Shonen Jump since then. The TV anime series adaptation in 2006 caused its popularity to skyrocket, and the 12th season of the series aired in 2017.
The story is set in a fictional Kabuki-cho in the city of Edo, where aliens from outer space known as Amanto have invaded and settled down. It revolves around Gintoki Sakata, a keeper of a yorozuya- an odd-job agent. Although he appears to be a lazy good-for-nothing, he stands against enemies who try to destroy the peace of Kabuki-cho. It’s a manga series with the perfect combination of comedy and seriousness.
An Adult Protagonist in ‘Jump’
Gintoki is meant be in his 20s. The protagonists of popular manga in Weekly Shonen Jump are usually teenage boys, the same as the magazine’s main demographic. For example, Luffy from One Piece, Naruto from Naruto, Ichigo from BLEACH, and more recently, Deku from My Hero Academia and Hinata from Haikyu!! are all in their teens.
Goku from Dragon Ballcould be a famous adult protagonist but the story starts with him as a young boy.
In the 90s, there was an adult protagonist, Kenshin from Samurai-X. The manga is set during the Bakumatsu (the end of the Edo Period), which is the same period as in Gintama. Ryo Saeba from City Hunter in the 80s and Cobra from Cobra which started its serialization in the late 80s, are adults as well. Something these adult protagonists all have in common is their comical side. Furthermore, City Hunter, Cobra, and Gintama all have a hard-boiled taste to them. It could be said that Gintama is a successor of these manga in Weekly Shonen Jump.
Gintoki Before the Start
According to Gintama creator, Sorachi, the series was originally developed as a story about the Shinsengumi, and the protagonist was named Hijikata. Before the manga’s serialization, this original protagonist didn’t have Gintoki’s current trademark dead fish eyes, but instead looked like a sharp-eyed Gintoki in a Shinsengumi uniform. Sorachi revealed the original plot in the 6th volume of the comic.
He then realized that applying the name of a historical figure too rigidly defined the character. He changed the name to ‘Gintoki Sakata’ who belongs to a Yorozuya instead of the Shinsengumi. The protagonist was then able to act however Sorachi wished. I didn’t know that the name of a character is such an important issue. The protagonist ‘Gintoki Sakata’ was born in this way, and the name of ‘Hijikata’ was given to another character, the black-haired Shinsengumi Vice-Commander, Toshiro Hijikata.
The Origin of Gintoki Sakata
‘Gintoki Sakata’ derives from ‘Kintoki Sakata’, a hero in Japanese folklore who was supposedly based on a real person who lived around the year 900 CE. His childhood name, Kintaro, is familiar to the Japanese as one of the most famous heroes in children’s stories. He is said to be a strong and energetic boy who won a sumo match against a bear.
In fact, the appearance of Sentomaru from One Piece is based on Kintaro. Kintaro is often depicted carrying a large ax on his shoulder and such an image ubiquitously appears across Japanese culture.
AU TV Ad ‘Early Autumn Ogre Busters’
As an example, watch this popular advertisement series on TV above. The character who first appears in the video is Kintaro. Although he is characterized as being a timid boy, his appearance is exactly what the Japanese associate with Kintaro.
The fact that we can’t see Kintaro in Gintoki is important. When they hear the name Gintoki Sakata, most Japanese would think, ‘I guess he’s a variant of Kintoki Sakata. Hang on, who’s Kintoki? I know his name was Kintaro when he was a child. As Kintaro was strong, he must’ve grown up much stronger. I don’t know exactly, but this Gintoki guy must be strong.’ The idea of Kintoki is vague unless you are really into the history or mythology of Japan. The name of ‘Gintoki Sakata’ implies a guy who has been strong since childhood, though it’s not known if he ever existed in real life, which overlaps with Gintoki’s profile of having a hidden past as the Shiroyasha (white demon), a legendary young samurai notorious for his fierce sword battles.
Many characters in Gintama are loosely based on historical figures. For instance, Kondo, Hijikata, and Okita are derived from actual members of the Shinsengumi. As for the name of the Shinsengumi, Sorachi just swapped the first kanji for a homophone. The old Joishishi members, Katsura, Sakamoto, and Takasugi are also based on samurai who were active during the Bakumatsu.
The Bakumatsu (the period of time in Japanese history in which the Shogunate came to an end) is one of the most favored subject matters in Japanese history for novels and other creative works. Roughly speaking, the Shinsengumi was an organisation which fought to preserve the samurai era and the Joishishi was a group of people who tried to end the samurai era and bring a new social system. Gintama’s unique sci-fi world was created on this basis of historical fact.
Most Japanese would realize that it is a story set during the Bakumatsu just by hearing the names Hijikata, Okita, Takasugi, and Katsura. The name of ‘Gintoki Sakata’, on the other hand, is different from the others. He used to be a legendary Joishishi, but now works by taking on odd jobs. His name signifies that he belongs to neither the Joishishi nor the Shinsengumi.
The Title of ‘Gintama‘ Signifies the Two Aspects of Gintoki
The title of Gintama is written with two kanji. If his name were ‘Kintoki’, the title would become ‘Kintama’, which is a homophone for the word ‘balls’ (yes, even in that sense of the word). The title of Gintama contains the sound of a dirty joke in itself. As the title suggests, the story is a comedy with many dirty jokes. Gintoki loves dirty jokes, gambling, and bar-hopping. The sound of the title Gintama signifies the comical side of the story.
Although being an unlikely adult hero in a boys’ magazine, Gintoki changes and risks his life to protect his friends when trouble occurs. The title also implies this serious side of Gintoki.
‘Gin’ means silver in Japanese. Silver is generally regarded as being less glitzy than gold. In Japan, however, we have the term ‘ibushi gin’, literally meaning oxidized silver, which means, ‘not glamorous but has sophisticated charm or skill.’ Silver-haired Gintoki has the exact charm and skills of ‘ibushi gin’ when he is serious. The word silver also implies ‘elder’ in Japan, as you can see in the word ‘silver seats,’ which means priority seats on a bus or train. The second part of the title, ‘Tama’ means soul, therefore Gintama can be translated as ‘silver soul’ which is a soul that’s not glamorous, though humbly shines throughout his time, regardless of his age or changes in society. The title signifies Gintoki’s soul in such a way.
Gintoki is often referred to as having dead fish eyes. Perhaps that’s because he’s seen so many hardships and grief through his eyes in the past. However, he hasn’t lost his silver light deep down in his eyes because he always has the silver soul within him.
Gintoki Doesn’t Have an Ultimate Killer Technique
Gintoki, unlike most heroes in manga, doesn’t have an ultimate technique. There is even an episode that makes fun of that fact. In that episode, the spirit of Gintoki’s wooden sword, Toyako, appears in order to teach Gintoki an ultimate technique without success. It’s a parody of BLEACH, in which the protagonist gets stronger when he meets the bearded spirit of his sword, Zangetsu, in his inner world.
Luffy from One Piece has many signature moves including ‘Gum gum pistol’, and Naruto from Naruto has his killer technique ‘Rasengan’, whereas Gintoki refuses to have any kind of ultimate technique. This is because Gintama is not a manga that mainly focuses on battles, but appeals with its storytelling: an alternate weaving of funny stories with serious ones. This is the reason why Gintama has survived the fierce competition within Shonen Jump. Its serialization started when wild battle manga such as One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach were all the rage. If Gintama had followed the same trend, it wouldn’t have been at the same place it is today. Sorachi chose a different path compared to other manga at the time and Gintama gradually gained popularity.
The way that Gintoki fights with his wooden sword also signifies an important aspect of the story. A wooden sword can’t slash enemies. It’s just able to hit them. It implies that Gintoki fights with his mighty soul, not relying on some technique nor weaponry.
An Unlikely Hero
Gintoki Sakata is an unlikely adult hero among the other heroes of shonen manga. He has both a childish silliness and a mature seriousness. I hope more people will learn the charm of Gintama and its protagonist.